David Moyes says he had "realistic fears" Mikel Arteta would leave Everton in the summer.
Instead the Spanish playmaker – linked with Arsenal and Manchester City – followed Tim Cahill by pledging his long-term future to the club. Both players have been influential figures at Goodison Park, where money remains tight.
Moyes said: "Mikel is so important to us. He proved that when he came back last year from injury. I did not want to lose him and had no intention of selling him. But I had realistic fears he might go elsewhere, although not back to Spain. We try to do our best for the players and the chairman [Bill Kenwright] did well to convince him to stay with Everton.
"I am really happy with the squad. It makes me feel great I am not talking about a lot of injuries.
"If we had let our better players go we would have to rebuild. I know I don't have the money to go out and buy new players so I have to try to keep our best ones. We have to be looking towards the top of the league. We have a good enough team, a good enough squad to compete. That will be my aim. Part of the manager's job is to raise expectations and there is quite a bit of expectation around Everton."